Biker

Character Breakdown

Magno Coutinho

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Magno Coutinho

Character Artist

Introduction

My name is Magno Coutinho, I'm from Brazil, and I'm a 3D Character Artist currently working at Compulsion Games.

Goals

When I started this character, my goal was to make something quick and fun. I wanted to apply the things I learned from my previous character – The Priestess – in a more relaxed way and ensure I understood the concepts of game character development well.

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Tools

  • ZBrush
  • Substance Painter
  • Substance Sampler
  • Maya
  • Marmoset Toolbag

Design & Ideas

Initially, I planned to create a butcher in a horror setting. However, after blocking out the idea, I wasn’t convinced.
Then, I remembered one of my favorite characters from Alan Wake 2 – Thor – who is this super charismatic old biker.

I decided to create a biker character instead. I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel and played with many stereotypes in his design to make it fun and easily recognizable for the viewer.

The design process for him was very natural, and after deciding to create a biker, everything fell into place smoothly.

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I advise anyone designing a character in ZBrush to be very loose at first and avoid detailing anything until the idea is clear.

Not only will this prevent you from wasting time on details you might not use in the final design, but being loose will also make the design stronger and more interesting.

Blockout & Highpoly

Once all the main pieces of his outfit were blocked out, I started detailing each one in a separate scene. This way, I could focus on one thing at a time and really push the design of each element.

The first piece I worked on was the boots, and you can see the process in the following image.

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I followed this same process for all the other elements until the whole character was detailed.

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Retopology

Finally, once that was done, I moved into Maya to retopologize the character using Quad Draw. I try not to use too many software tools in my workflow because I prefer to keep it simple.

Therefore, even though there are nice tools specific for retopology or UVs, I prefer to do it all in one software, and Maya happened to be the one I’m most familiar with and the one I used for this project.

One useful trick for retopologizing multiple objects that will become a single geometry in the low poly is to Dynamesh all the objects together in ZBrush before bringing them into your retopology program.

This will make Maya’s Quad Draw behavior more predictable. I modeled the body with Dynamesh, but once I had a nice blockout in place, I used ZWrap to transfer a metahuman topology to my character, and that was the topology I used in my final renders.

It is a bit dense if you’re aiming for optimization. Still, since I wanted to use ray tracing in my final images, my geometry needed not to be too low as that would cause shadow artifacts, as demonstrated in the image below.

Artifacts

Patches

One particular aspect of this character was the patches on his vest. Starting from simple 2D images, I used Substance Sampler to turn those into stitched patches.

It’s a very straightforward process, and I was impressed by the results. I recommend checking out this tutorial by Pablo Muñoz if you want to make something similar.

Since the patches were crucial for his design and texturing, and I didn’t want to lose the details from Substance Sampler, I dedicated two UVs to the patches, both using 2K resolution.

Below are some detailed shots.

In an actual game, this might not be feasible, depending on the platform the game is running on, but it could easily be downsized to two 1k maps if needed.

So in the end, the character was composed of 10 UV sets: 2 for the patches, 3 for the body to ensure enough resolution for the tattoos, and 5 for everything else.

Texturing

In Substance Painter, I follow a few simple steps. Firstly, I define the basic color and material properties like roughness and metalness for each object. Then, I add tileable textures and grunge maps to detail this initial layer.

Lastly, I add curvature and AO details, most of the time using smart masks like Dirt and Metal Edge Wear.

If the high-poly model has nice details, using the curvature map in the texturing process will make those details pop more and it’s a great way to make the textures more realistic. The key is to keep it subtle so it doesn’t look artificial.

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Tattoos

One nice trick I’ve used on his tattoos was to blur the texture a bit so they look like older tattoos.

I didn’t want him to look like he was just coming straight out of the Tattoo Studio.

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Lighting

While texturing, I also set up my scene in Marmoset, and from time to time, I export my textures from Substance to test with different lighting scenarios.

I try to use more neutral lighting at this stage so I can see how the actual textures look, and most of the time, I’m only using one HDR (sky) to light the character.

I recommend avoiding using an HDR that is too yellow, too blue, or any other color at this stage, as this will compromise how you perceive the textures and might cause you to make the colors in the texture appear artificial.

Also, try different lighting setups at all times; it has a huge impact on the way we see the model and textures.

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Rendering

As my textures are close to finished, I’ll set up my final lighting.

In this case, I used an HDR and two Omni lights. The HDR serves as both the key light and fill light, then I use one omni light to brighten the face and another one as a rim light to separate the character from the background color.

You can also play with different color spaces in your camera settings in Marmoset to see how it affects the look of your model. I ended up using ACES for all the renders of this character, with some adjustments so it doesn’t look too dark and artificial.

I added a Shadow Catcher just so the character was not floating and rendered many angles to highlight the most important elements of the character.

Conclusion

There’s a lot that goes into the development of any game character. I had just finished working for months on my previous one, and this time, I just wanted to have fun with it.

This project is special to me in that way; it was fun and spontaneous. As artists, we have to undertake projects like this from time to time so we don’t lose track of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

If you can take anything from this article, I hope it’s this: Have fun!